Warning – My Own Crack Score

One of the problems that I created for myself when I created the belt system of skills here at 2Time is in the discipline of “Warning.”

The idea was simple enough when I first envisioned it.  (Here are my original 2 posts on the topic.)

Any good system needs a way to warn its owner or operator when things are about to fall apart.  A warning light on your dashboard is a perfect example.  It tells you when a system is about to exceed its operating limits, and indicates that it’s necessary to intervene in some way.

Unfortunately, up until recently, I have been stuck in this area of time management. My original vision was for a dashboard of some kind running on top of Outlook, that would operate as a warning system of sorts.  Unfortunately, writing about such a dashboard and actually having one to use are two different things!  I sometimes wish that there were a team of software designers sitting someplace, ready to turn all my ideas into useful commercial programs.

Alas… that hasn’t happened.  I stopped at that point and waited… but nothing happened.

That meant that I couldn’t possibly progress to a Green Belt, because my Orange Belt in Warning couldn’t be upgraded until some software miracle took place.  Now that I write about it… that was a pretty weak position to start from.

After reading portions of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography I realized that I was taking the low road.  After all, he spent what seems to be hundreds of hours analyzing his writing skills in order to improve them.  He engaged in a variety of exercises designed to compare himself against the best writers he could find, enhancing his skills over time.

I got inspired and started to ask myself what I could do, without technology, to give myself more Warning indicators, and perhaps earn an upgrade to a much coveted Green Belt.

As an aside, there are those who would argue that I should just change the rules, and make it easier to get a Green Belt.  After all, I made up all these belts, and their corresponding standards, and no-one would ever notice that I cheated just a little bit…  Frankly, in an age of Madoffs, Stanfords and Marion Jones’, I’d hardly be doing anything wrong by taking an itty, bitty shortcut.

It’s not exactly the path the high achievement, according to “Talent is Overrated” and I’d really only by fooling myself.  Right?

OK — back to “the coveted Green Belt.”

What could I track or measure that would give me an indication that my time management system is about to fall apart? Here’s what I use today, after a week or two of upgrading:

Warning #1 — triggered when my Inbox isn’t empty.  There are moments when I decide to keep something I have read in my Inbox for a few hours, violating the Zero Inbox principle.  When that number gets above 2-5 time demands (they might be in a single email) then that’s a sign that I’m about to get into trouble.

Here’s my “warning rule…”
Small warning:  3 time demands in Inbox
Big warning:  4+ time demands in Inbox

Warning #2 — when I Capture, I am sometimes unable to Empty within 24 hours, which results in my manual Capture Point becoming overfull.  I use a small paper pad, which has 16 lines.

Small warning:  2 pages of Captured items
Big warning: 3+ pages of Captured items

Warning #3 — when I experience too many items falling through the cracks, it’s a sure sign that my time management system is broken.  I have started to keep a daily report in my Habit Tracker to write down the number of time demands that slip through the cracks in my system

Small warning: 3 items falling through the cracks in 7 days
Big Warning: 4+ items falling through the cracks in 7 days

This is what I call my daily “crack score”

Warning #4 — incoming paperwork that is unprocessed sitting in a pile

Small warning:  2 unprocessed pieces of paperwork
Big warning: 3 or more pieces of unprocessed paperwork

Warning #5 — a few weeks go, I missed an appointment entirely and completely.  When I scanned my diary for the day, I happened to not scroll all the way down the page, and a 4pm appointment was completely skipped as I drove my way from one errand to another.

Small warning: not setting up my calendar for the next three days so that it’s overlap free, and has enough space between activities
Big warning: missing or being late for a meeting or appointment

Warning #6 — missing the start of an activity by being deeply engrossed in another activity

Small warning: skipping past a reminder in Outlook now and then
Big warning: consistently skipping past an Outlook reminder, or having no interruption whatsoever

Warning #7 — Switching from a hard task to a recovery activity (i.e. Facebook) and getting lost in cyberspace

Small warning:  ?  The truth is, I don’t know how to measure this — any ideas?
Big warning:

Warning #8 — allowing the list of Warnings to get stale

Small warning: the list includes one or two stale items
Big warning: the list of warnings is completely forgotten

(Note to self… schedule time to review Warning List.)

There are some automatic warnings that I’m sent when something goes awry in the some of the 11 fundamentals, such as:
= A “Storing” Warning from Mozy.com, my backup service, when it hasn’t been able to do a full backup within the last 7 days

I can think of a number of other kinds of Warnings to set up, but the truth is that they don’t reflect problem areas for me.  For other people, however, they might very well be a problem.  For example, I don’t need a warning to tell me that I haven’t Reviewed my time management system in the past month because of the kind of work I do for a living… I Review my system every time I write a post, coach a client or deliver a workshop!

This reinforces the notion that each person must build their own system for Warning, and their own checklist.  My list won’t mean anything to most people, or even to most “Orange-Belts-who-are-on-the-verge-of-a-Green-Belt.”

Well, this is further than I have ever gone in this area.  Coming up with all these bright ideas aren’t worth “a bucket of warm spit” if I am not able to develop the practices to support them, and turn them into habits.  Once again, the temptation is to find a way to give myself a Green Belt for trying really, really hard… after all, isn’t this post evidence of superior effort?

Thanks to you and other readers of this post for following this website, and helping to keep me straight.  Without your participation, I’d probably just find a way to sneak around my best intentions!

A Warning for Each Fundamental

In the last week I have been immersed in leading 2 NewHabits-NewGoals programmes here in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

These courses are the fastest way for me to learn what works and what doesn’t work in the entire 2Time approach, and especially in the programmes offered to  the public.

One insightful question that was put to me was whether or not there I would recommend a Warning system for each of the 11 fundamentals.

I thought about it for a while and thought that the idea would be a fantastic one, except that for a proper Warning system to exist, it must be automated and based on more than a gut feeling.

In each of the fundamentals, I got this far in my thinking in what would constitute a complete warning system:

Warning Signs

1. Capturing — too many items or pages remain in the capture point.  Another warning could be that the oldest item in the capture point is more than a certain number of days old.

2. Emptying —  this might be similar to the warning for Capturing.  One specific warning could be the number of days that have elapsed between bouts of “Emptying”

3. Tossing —  I would set my warning signal for tossing be related to the number of items that exist in my time management system in some way.  If the total number of items became too large, I would relate that to a possible lack of Tossing.

4. Acting Now — if my schedule became too packed with too many items, that might relate to a lack of “Acting Now.”   This would be easy to measure in Outlook if it measured the number of items that were disposed of, but this would mean that an incoming email would have to be tracked and tagged in some way.  This would be useful, but might add extra “bloat” to Outlook in addition to the fat that already exists.

5.  Storing — when I have too many items waiting to be filed or scanned, that is an instant warning that I need to  be doing more Storing.

6.  Scheduling —  I wish that Outlook could do some quick analysis of my schedule to tell me whether or not my schedule was unrealistic, using some criteria that  I could give.  If too many items are scheduled at the same time, or too close together, it should be able to tell me.

7.  Listing — I wish I could tell when lists are getting stale and need to be pruned

8.  Interrupting — this one leaves me a bit lost.  To have a good warning, Outlook would need to measure what happens when I dismiss a reminder.  Perhaps reminders would have to be re-thought completely, and the user should be given a choice of different ways of dismissing them.  One choice could be to “dismiss as complete,” and another could be to “dismiss as irrelevant.”  Then, perhaps the time it is dismissed could tell something about whether or not the reminder is actually working the way it should.

(I appreciate that if you are not a heavy Outlook user that this won’t make much sense to you.)

9.  Switching — this is getting more difficult with these advanced fundamentals… Maybe a valid warning in Switching might be  the number of ignored reminders, as a sort of rough guide as to whether or not the schedule is being consulted before action is taken

10.   Warning — the number of automated warnings that are consulted (or not ignored) can be used as a possible warning for Warning!

11.  Reviewing — If Outlook had something like a formal review that showed statistics telling me how my time management system is working, that would be a start.

These Warnings would be a good start, and if I were to rethink the programme I would do it along these lines.

Component #10 – Warning v2

No user’s system is perfect, and all systems are liable to fall apart at the seams when pressure hits and certain practices (like Reviewing) fall by the wayside.


What a smart user at a high level will do is to create a series of warnings that indicate whether or not the system is operating adequately. Ideally, these warnings should be designed to come early – long before there is any danger of the system failing.

Warning involves putting in place automated signals that tell the user that the system is about to fail. Continue reading “Component #10 – Warning v2”